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A Beginners Guide to how the Roman Empire Started

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

On January 16th, in 27 BC, the Roman Empire began - That’s 2049 years ago year counting fans. It started when the snappily named Gaius Julius Casear Octavianus became the first ever Roman Emperor; Emperor Augustus. To commemorate the anniversary, we’ve decided to present to you, dear reader, the key facts that you need to know about how the Roman Empire started. Buckle up and let’s get started!

Roman Senators doing their thing. By Cesare Maccari

Before the Roman Empire was an Empire it was a Republic. What’s the difference? Well, in a Republic the power to rule is shared between a group of people, called a Senate. However, in an Empire the power is held by just one person alone; the Emperor. The Senators in a Senate are voted in to power, whilst an Emperor gets to be in charge because everyone else is pretty scared of them.

Caesar was the boss thanks to his army. By Lionel Royer

The shift from Republic to Empire kicked off when a fella by the name of Julius Caesar decided to be Dictator for Life – that means he would rule Rome until the day that he popped his sandals. He was able to get away with this due to owning an army. Caesar had a massive force of legionnaires that were loyal only to to him. With such a mighty army under his control, no one could mess with Caesar.

Caesar is assassinated. By Carl Theodor von Piloty

Only, they could. The Senators were fed up with Caesar and, fearing for the Republic, they decided to assassinate him. On the Ides of March (15th of March) in 44 BC the Senators killed Caesar by stabbing him 23 times. They definitely got carried away.

The Roman people loved Caesar. By George Edward Robertson

What the Senators failed to consider though, was that the Roman people really liked Caesar. As such, they were all fairly miffed that a bunch of rich old dudes had killed their favourite toga clad leader. This chaos created a power vacuum. Rather than return to the rule of a Republic, a whole bunch of different people wanted to be the boss instead.

Romans fighting Romans. Courtesy Battles of the Ancients

What followed were lots of civil wars, where Roman Army fought against fellow Roman Army. On one side you had Julius Caesar's chosen heir, his grandnephew Gaius Octavius and his best mate Marc Antony. Facing them, on the opposing side, you had two of Caesar’s assassins, Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius, who were working together to be victorious.

Octavius and Antony carve up the Empire. Courtesy ColdEel

After much bloodshed Brutus and Cassius were defeated, leaving Octavius and Antony to carve up the Republic between themselves (and another guy Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, but let’s not worry about him!). Thing is, both men wanted even more power, so it wasn’t long until a new civil war started after Octavius and Antony turned on each other.

The end of the Civil Wars - for the time being! By Laureys a Castro

Antony was finally defeated at the Battle of Alexandria, leaving Octavius in charge. Octavius decided to be a divine god-like being, as you do, called Emperor Augustus. The Emperor would now rule the Empire and everyone in it all on his ownsome.

Augustus rules all. Courtesy Till Niermann

Augustus turned out to be pretty good at being an Emperor, he went on to rule for 41 years. His rule was pretty peaceful and he did loads of stuff the people liked. Such as sorting taxes, building lots of roads – people just love roads for some reason, setting up police and fire services and conquering lots of new lands to join the Empire. People love a winner and Augustus was the biggest winner of them all.

He did such a good job that the whole 'having an Emperor thing' was a hit. So much so that Roman Emperors ruled for another five centuries until the Empire collapsed – but that’s a story for another day!


Is your class loving learning about the Romans? Then you'll definitely want to bring Imagining History's 'Roman Britain: A Time Travel Tour' workshop to your school!


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